Preachers’ Kids

Sometime during last week’s annual sermon-planning retreat we started calling it “Preacher Camp.”

I’m talking about the event I referenced in my last post, where I get together with five of my closest colleagues for a week to map out our preaching for the year.  The difference was that this year we brought the kids.  They were sitting at the breakfast table on that first morning still rubbing the sleep from their eyes when I said, “Welcome to Preacher Camp, boys and girls!  When breakfast is over we’re going to have Bible study, then take a nature hike, and then go to crafts.  We’ll follow that with lunch and rest time, and then we’ll all go down to the lake for a swim.  Sound good?”  I got a lot of blank stares in return, and only after several minutes did three-year-old Adam say, “You’re teasing, right, Mr. Jim?” 

Yes.  I was teasing.  But while the preachers sat at a table on the side porch and had Bible study (working through every Sunday of 2011) the children read books and drew pictures and played ping pong and took a hike, and after lunch and naps we all went down to the lake for a swim.  So, in many ways, it was like camp, especially the last night when we built a campfire and sat around it singing silly songs and roasting marshmallows. 

What I learned is that this collection of preacher’s kids is sweet, smart, kind, and funny.  Five-year-old Audra Ballenger was full of interesting questions and comments, and one of my favorite pictures from the week is the one of her delivering a long lecture to Russ Dean as she sat on his stomach while he lay on the couch.  Eleven-year-old Bennett Dean came into his own on Thursday night, busting some sweet moves at a spontaneous dance party and encouraging the rest of us to toss inhibition to the wind.  My own daughter Catherine (the oldest by far at nineteen) was sweetly patient with an adoring “fan club” of small children and happy to engage in conversation with their parents while sunning on the dock. 

Unlike some of the warnings you hear about “preachers’ kids,” these were the kind you would want to spend a week with.  It makes me think that this generation of preachers, or at least the ones I hang out with, have given up on the idea that their children will be neatly dressed and perfectly behaved at all times, that they will know all the books of the Bible and want to come to church three times a week.  They seem much more willing to let their kids be kids, and that’s not a bad thing, especially if they are the kids of people whose relationship with God and whose saturation in his Word has led them to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.  The fruit of the spirit is evident in the lives of their children, and the apples don’t fall far from the tree.

So, this is an expression of appreciation not only to those preachers’ kids I spent the week with, but to the preachers who are raising them.  Thank you Don, John, Russ, Amy, and Dorisanne—for being the people you are and for passing so much of that goodness along to the next generation. 

The world needs people like your kids.

The Experience of Awe

I recently posted an entry from “Jim’s Online Journal,” which I used to share with a few close friends and family members in the days before blogging became so popular (by the way, I love the quote someone shared with me recently about blogging: “Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.”  True!).  But here’s another excerpt from that old journal that still seems fresh.  I hope you will enjoy it.


Thursday, July 30, 1998

Spirituality professor Glenn Hinson says that “the appropriate response to God is this”:  and then he lets his mouth fall open with an audible “plop” and stands in front of his class  for a full sixty seconds while his students first laugh and then begin to squirm uncomfortably before such a sustained expression of awe.

Today, two full days after my return from a backpacking trip to Montana’s awe-inspiring Bob Marshall Wilderness, my jaws are still sore from rounding all those bends in the trail and having my mouth fall open again and again.  What a place!  What breathtaking beauty!  In the same way I felt helpless to cram all that glory into a snapshot as I took pictures, I feel helpless to describe the experience in words, but here are a few black and white, monotone memories of a technicolor, surround-sound trip:

Day 2:  Trudging up endless switchbacks and through a dense pine forest to emerge, at last, by the edge of an alpine lake, its clear blue-green waters overshadowed by a craggy peak, flanked with snow, towering 3,000 feet above the surface of the lake.

Day 3:  Leaving my backpack behind and climbing some of the smaller peaks around Koessler Lake.  Scrambling up a near-vertical face and thrusting my arms into the air in a gesture of triumph at the peak.  Looking over the North edge of that peak at a sheer cliff wall dropping 2,000 feet into Lick Lake.  Climbing down and entering a broad, flat alpine meadow, dotted with red, blue, yellow, and white wildflowers, bursting into a baritone rendition of “The Sound of Music.”  Leaning back into the shade of a huge boulder, eating beef jerky and sipping mountain spring water, feeling my soul nourished.

Day 5:  Swimming in the cool, clear water of a secluded mountain lake.  Sitting on a warm, flat rock in the sunshine to dry off afterward.  Listening to the sound of water falling in fat drops from my elbows and fingertips and hearing absolutely nothing else.  Silence.  Silence.  Ahhhh!

There is, of course, much more to tell, but let me leave you with the image of my eyes fixed on Montana, my mouth hanging open in awe.  To quote William Willimon:  “God is large, and prickly, and . . . large.”